The BBC had hoped to get the all clear for the new digital youth channel in order for it to feature as a key weapon in the roll-out of its DTT service in October. It had been counting on a decision before the parliamentary recess at the end of July, and had been working towards a September launch of the channel.
However, the corporation has been forced to tear up its plans for BBC 3 once again and is now working towards a February launch after learning that media secretary Tessa Jowell will not make a decision until at least next month. While she is said to be 'still considering' the channel, sources close to the process expect her to give it the go-ahead.
BBC director of marketing and communications Andy Duncan will now have to push ahead with a marketing strategy for the new BBC/Crown Castle free-to-air service - which will be run on the three former ITV Digital multiplexes - without BBC 3. The channel, which would feature a mix of entertainment, factual and drama aimed at the 23 to 34-year-old age group, was being primed as a key driver for take-up of the new service.
As part of a planned awareness campaign surrounding the new channel, flagship programmes that currently only air on BBC Choice, such as hidden camera show Diners, were to be screened on BBC 2 at the same time as a 'taster', but this has also had to be put back.
One senior BBC executive said the squabbles over the channel were distracting from the big issue of promoting digital television. 'We have done all we can,' he said, adding that if the channel was turned down it would be 'disastrous' for the corporation's relationship with the government.
Jowell first knocked back the plans for BBC 3 last September after describing them as 'not distinct enough'. She then delayed a decision again in March by asking the Independent Television Commission to undertake a market impact survey on the channel. It reported at the beginning of July, and said any concerns 'could be overcome'.
Confirmation of yet another BBC 3 delay comes in the same week that it emerged the corporation's other key digital project, BBC News 24, has been comprehensively attacked in a key governmental review.
The review, conducted by former Financial Times editor Richard Lambert on behalf of the DCMS, is understood to claim the rolling news channel is not cost efficient and questions its audience share claims. News 24 costs £50m a year to run and last year only achieved a 0.1 per cent share.
The review is also believed to question whether adequate targets and performance measures were put in place by BBC governors at the time of its launch in 1997.
Submitted to the DCMS one month ago, it has yet to be published. The BBC and the DCMS declined to comment.